After cheering on two of my cousins (and many Whippets!) at last year’s Boston Marathon, I became more inspired to really work towards my BQ. I couldn’t be the only marathoner in the family to not qualify for Boston! I needed a 3:35, and with my marathon PR a 3:51 at that time, I knew I needed to put in some serious work over the summer and pick my Fall marathon strategically. The Columbus Marathon was a perfect choice for me—fast and flat, on the BAA’s list of top qualifiers, guaranteed to have cool temperatures, and in my home state of Ohio.
I registered for Columbus last spring and started training in June. In addition to the Whippet Tuesday night speed workouts and Saturday morning long runs, I added more cross training to my routine this time around. I started strength training once a week and relied on Les Mills Bodypump classes at NYSC, which is a total body workout that focuses on developing long, lean muscle. Two days a week I added in indoor cycling (I really love Flywheel and Swerve) and this had a major positive impact on my running. The interval work, hills, and sprints required in a spin class made me faster and improved my overall strength. I also tried to mix in yoga and barre classes when I could, to really focus on strengthening my core. There were actually some weeks where I would only run 3 days a week. Throughout the summer, I noticed myself being able to push the pace and hang with pace groups that I wouldn’t have thought of joining before. Long runs started to get easier (did I just equate the word “easy” to running?!) and less monotonous, and I wasn’t totally wiped out afterward. Columbus is a flat marathon; however I made sure to not skimp on the hill workouts (ok, I may have cheated and avoided Harlem Hill once or twice at a Tuesday workout) so that the flat course would feel fairly easy. I stuck to this running/cross training routine from June to early October since it seemed to be working. I am also a fan of the three week taper, so I enjoyed that once the time came. I also paid more attention to how I was eating and hydrating the week leading up to the marathon than I have in the past. Overall my diet is fairly healthy but I focused on whole grains, the usual carbs, protein sources, eating more vegetables and healthy fats while eliminating alcohol and unnecessary sugar and snacking during that week.
I was a little nervous when race day (October 18th) arrived because the temperature at the start was 29 degrees, with it only climbing to about 35 degrees throughout the marathon. I much prefer cool temperatures, but freezing was not something I was used to for a marathon. Putting that aside, I tried to focus on the task at hand—getting my BQ, or at least getting a decent PR. One of my cousins who I had cheered on in Boston, Abby, lives in Columbus and decided to run the marathon as well so it was great to have to someone to go to the race with since I would be the lone Whippet in Columbus. My plan was to start with Abby, but since she is faster, I wasn’t sure how long I would stick with her. I followed my usual pre-race breakfast routine—oatmeal, toast with peanut butter, banana, and a half cup of coffee—and then made my way to the start in my various layers of throwaway clothes. The temperature actually did not feel as bad I thought it would, probably because there was no wind.
Abby had no race plan, so she pretty much left it up to me and was there for support since she knew I was trying to BQ. The first 10 miles flew by and we were averaging sub-8 minute miles which is not what I had intended to do, but I was feeling okay so I went with it. I stuck with Abby until about mile 14 and we were still averaging sub-8 minute miles and I knew I had to pull back in order to avoid a disaster later. Abby took off, and I used miles 15 to 22 to re-focus, re-fuel with half of a chia bar (I don’t take GU’s and actually I don’t eat very much during a marathon) and pull pack to a more steady pace averaging between 8:05-8:25. I knew at this point that I had a pretty good chance to get my BQ so I didn’t want to overdo it. Around mile 23 I started to push again because I realized I had the chance to break 3:30. Having achieved my BQ at this point, this new goal pushed me through the last 5k. I finished in 3:26:21. I felt great throughout the race, actually it was the best I’ve felt during a marathon, but I was still pretty shocked. I got my BQ for 2017 and a 26 minute marathon PR!
Pros/Cons of the Columbus Marathon
I very much enjoyed this marathon and would definitely recommend it to others, especially if you are trying to BQ. The course is very flat, with only a few small inclines. There is great crowd support throughout, as you run through downtown Columbus and some of the neighboring suburbs, with many people coming out to cheer. Interestingly, the one dead zone seemed to be when we ran through part of the Ohio State University campus, however OSU had just beaten Penn State the night before so I doubt the students were in any type of shape to come out early on a Sunday morning to cheer on the marathoners. This race does also include a half marathon, which resulted in some crowding at the start and through about mile 2. However, the crowding is nothing like we are used to for NYRR races, especially NYCM. The actual marathon field was around 4500 (the field total was around 20,000 I believe), so once the half marathoners spilt off around mile 12, there weren’t that many people around me. The marathon was extremely well organized, had plenty of fluid stops, and a well-marked course. My only con is that around mile 24 the course includes uneven, cobblestone streets. I have no clue as to why someone would think this would be a good idea to include as part of the course!
Overall I felt that I had trained well, didn’t hit the wall, and had fun running a marathon with family. I couldn’t be happier to not only achieve my BQ, but also hit a huge PR and broke 3:30!